Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

It's been a long time since we've done a post that wasn't related to Something, Anything. Back in 2007 (!), I did a post on shareware for filmmakers. That's still the first hit you get if you google the term. So I figured it was time to do an update. Looking over this list, it's kind of remarkable what kind of tools you can assemble for very, very little money.

Happy New Year!

AUDIO/VIDEO EDITORS

Audacity: Free. From the audacity website: "Easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems."

Audio Hijack: $49. Allows you to record any streaming audio. Useful for all sorts of things -- skype interviews, etc. Also, you may want to compare Fission (Rogue Amoeba’s $29 audio editor) against Audacity.

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DaVinci Resolve 12: Free and Paid versions. Resolve would be on this list alone because it’s an industry-standard color grading app. What’s equally amazing is that it’s now a very useable NLE. When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X and abandoned its venerable (but aging) Final Cut Pro 7, there was a seismic shift in the NLE landscape. Some people moved to Premiere Pro, others moved to Avid, and some adopted FCPX. I clung to FCP 7 in hopes that something would come along that was less buggy (and better supported) than Premiere, more intuitive than Avid, and more "traditional" (for lack of a better word) than FCP X. DaVinci Resolve is not perfect, but it’s elegantly designed, and the free version does 90% of what the paid version does. And of course, it's a must have for the grading tools alone.

VIDEO CONVERTERS

Apple Compressor: $50. Apple’s venerable Compressor app (part of its old Final Cut Studio suite) got a make-over when FCP X was introduced a few years ago. Now an affordable standalone app, it’s $50 and works pretty well. Users of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Adobe Media Encoder) probably don’t have a use for this, but some people (I’m one) still prefer it. VLC, Handbrake, and MPEG Streamclip (all below) are other alternatives, but I tend to go with Compressor.

MPEG Streamclip: Free. In their own words, MPEG streamclip is a “free video converter, player, editor for Mac and Windows. It can play many movie files, not only MPEGs; it can convert MPEG files between muxed/demuxed formats for authoring; it can encode movies to many formats, including iPod; it can cut, trim and join movies. MPEG Streamclip can also download videos from YouTube and Google by entering the page URL.”

Handbrake: Free. From the Handbrake website: "HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs."

SCREENWRITING, WORD PROCESSING, SPREADSHEETS, etc.

Celtx: Free (for scriptwriting app only; other features are paid). I teach first-time screenwriting students, and this is the app I always send them to because it’s free. There are paid upgrades if you want additional features (scheduling and so on). But I’ve not tried those, and I’d be reluctant to use them over Scenechronize (see below). My favorite screenwriting app is Fade In (see immediately below), but this gets the job done if you have absolutely no money.

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Fade In: $50. This isn't shareware, but it's affordably priced, especially considering the competition. The best, and simplest, screenwriting app I’ve ever encountered — and I’ve paid for Adobe Story, Final Draft (vers 6, 7, and 8) Movie Magic Screenwriter, and several other also-rans (plus Celtx). Fade In works with files from other screenwriting apps flawlessly, in my experience. You can import files from Final Draft, Fountain, Celtx, Adobe Story, Scrivener, PDF, and plain text, among others. The interface is just what I want: It looks good, it puts a focus on the words, and it’s easy to navigate through the script. I actually LIKE using it. There's also an iPad app. Unfortunately it's not nearly as solid.

Scrivener: $45. Like Fade In, this isn't shareware. But it is an awesome tool for keeping notes, research, and drafts in order as you prep a project. The one downside is that the developer has been promising an iPad version for years, and during that time people have been leaving the app for other competitors (like Ulysses).

Libre Office and Open Office: Free. These are essentially open source versions of the applications you find in Microsoft Office. (Do I really need to explain what you'd use these for?) Anyway, some people prefer Libre Office, others prefer Open Office. My day job supplies me with a free copy of MS Office, so I don’t have much of an opinion. They're both free -- download them both and give each a spin. Of course, another option is to work in the cloud using Google Docs (see below).

MISCELLANEA

App Cleaner: Free. If you’re reading this, you probably like trying new apps. The problem is that when you install new software hidden files and folders often get installed all over your computer. App Cleaner the easiest way to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. I use this all the time.

Super Duper: Free / $28 and Carbon Copy Cloner: $40. Backups are essential, and these are two great backup and disk-cloning solutions. I far prefer either to Apple’s Time Machine (which is a different thing altogether). I use SuperDuper, but Carbon Copy Cloner is very good too.

Cyberduck: Donationware. As the website states, Cyberduck is a "FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, S3, Azure & OpenStack Swift browser for Mac and Windows." My go-to app for FTP stuff.

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Movie Thumbnails: $3.99. This is really one of the best-kept secrets on the list. Movie Thumbnails lets you “create an overview or contact sheet of a movie combined with metadata like resolution, codec details and so forth.” We used this app to create contact sheets for every video file shot on Something, Anything, which helped us check on the wardrobe continuity or lighting for a shot from previous days of filming. Invaluable!

Pacifist: $20 shareware. This is one of those apps that you may only use once or twice, but you’ll be so glad it exists when you need it. Basically it allows you to drill down into Mac software packages to extract a single file from an installer. You may think you have no need for it, but like I said, it’s great at what it does.

QuickTime Movie NoteTaker: Free. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is still supported, and I confess I've not needed to use it in years.But this made the list last time and it might help someone out, so I’m listing putting here.

Self-Control: Free. The internet is a factory of distractions. If you don’t trust yourself to stay focused on that screenplay, use Self-Control to shut off the internet for a while. It works.

Transcriva: $30. Transcription software for the Mac. I’ve not used this in a while, and some folks are using their NLE's voice recognition software, but it's still useful. While looking at Transcriva again I ran across Express Scribe -- never used it, but it also worth a look if you need something like this.

White Noise Free: Free. I get distracted if I can hear random conversations, music, etc. while doing deep dive work (e.g., writing or editing). Listening to white noise and a pair of good headphones helps me stay focused.

VLC Media Player: Free. From the website: "VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols." Plays almost anything you throw at it. We use this to cue up trailers at Public Cinema screenings.

CLOUD/WEB APPS:

This could be a really long list, but here are a few that I use.

Scenechronize: Free and Paid versions. I used to use a very old academic edition of Movie Magic/EP Scheduling, which is really expensive, to do stripboards and scheduling. Then a few years ago we discovered this. We used the free version of Scenechronize on Something, Anything, and it was amazing. It's so amazing that I've bumped it to the top of this section, out of alphabetical order. The paid version allows teams to collaborate.

Dropbox and Copy: Free and Paid versions. You know what Dropbox is. Copy is pretty much the same thing. There are lots of other web apps out there that do what these two do. When Something, Anything started being invited to festivals, each one would ask for their own set of (sometimes unique) deliverables. Instead of using Dropbox (which I use for tons of other things) I created a new Copy account and created files for each festival. This kept things clean and organized. Again, you could do this with one service (like Dropbox) but with so many players in the free cloud storage area, why not use a few?

Google Apps: Sheets and Forms. Free. I’m ambivalent about cloud computing (as in, it really sucks if you lose internet service), but I use Google’s Spreadsheet and Survey apps quite a bit. We used the spreadsheet app to keep track of everything fromcasting information to festival submissions to publications to approach for reviews or other coverage. Google Surveys are great, too. We used them one, for example, at the beginning of Something, Anything to poll our crew about dietary restrictions, medical conditions, and so on.

Wordpress: Free. Many a great website was built on the back of Wordpress. (In case you're interested, this site is built on WP; Something, Anything's site is SquareSpace. SquareSpace will cost you money, maybe too much money, but it's appealingly no fuss.)

STUFF I DON’T USE, BUT SOME PEOPLE SWEAR BY:

Blender: Free. Blender is used for, as the website says, "3D computer graphics software used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games." If you've ever seen my films you might suspect I know virtually nothing about this stuff. And you'd be right.

Lightworks: Free and Pro (Paid) Versions Lightworks was one of the first non-linear editors, and it’s been used to edit films like The Wolf of Wall Street, LA Confidential, Pulp Fiction, Heat, and Road to Perdition. You can compare the free and paid versions here. After Apple's FCP debacle in 2011, I was curious about exploring this, but by the time the Mac version of Lightworks was released Resolve had emerged as a NLE candidate.

Evernote: Free and Paid versions. I've never been a convert, but some people -- especially writers -- are almost cultish in their devotion to Evernote.

Hopefully this post introduced you to one or more apps that helps you be more creative and productive. If you like something that I've not listed, or have thoughts on any of the above, let me know in the comments, via email, on Twitter, etc.

Something, Anything - By the Numbers

A year ago today, Something, Anything had its world premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Today, the film is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vimeo, and Netflix. To commemorate an incredible, and exhausting, year of sharing the film with audiences here are some fun facts.

Something, Anything... by the numbers

22,474: miles traveled screening the film from April 2014 (premiere) to February 2015 (end of fest travel)

3333: days between emailing inquiry to Abbey of Gethsemani (first day of research for script) to world premiere (Wisconsin Film Festival)

961: gigabytes of original footage (AVCHD codec, in case you're interested)

371: days between first day of principal photography and last day of principal photography (August 14, 2011 - August 20, 2012)

159: runtime of the film's first assembly edit

127: scenes in final draft of screenplay

100+: actresses seen during casting for role of Margaret

88: runtime of film's final cut

71: dollars paid on Ebay for the main lens used to shoot the film (Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E)

58: locations filmed

57: Facebook posts on since April 2014.

33: speaking roles

24: music cues

14: festivals and cinematheque selections (as of April 5, 2015)

8: number of times Paul Harrill and Ashley Maynor moved from pre-production through post-production

7: average number of crew members (largest crew size was 14; smallest was 1).

6: different camera models used on various occasions through production

5: attempts made to film synchronized fireflies before succeeding

4: babies born to crew and cast members during the film's production, post, and distribution

3 and 1/2: stars (out of 4) given to film by critic Michal Oleszczyk in his review on RogerEbert.com

2: number of weeks Something, Anything was in Netflix's Top 50 streaming movies according to website InstantWatcher.com

1: scenes in which the character of Peggy/Margaret (Ashley Shelton) does not appear in the film

Released

The head of the trail where we filmed our first shots.

The head of the trail where we filmed our first shots.

Paul here. I'm honored to announce that Something, Anything was released digitally today in partnership with the Sundance Institute. The film is available for purchase and/or rent on iTunes and Google Play immediately and will be released on Amazon in the near future. It's also now available on Vimeo On Demand.

I started writing this film in earnest in late 2009. Soon thereafter Ashley Maynor joined the journey. Then, starting in 2011, many others came along to help bring it to life. We worked on it, on and off, for a long time before it finally premiered in April 2014. It took so long to make that we joked that it wasn't a film; it was a lifestyle. And when we were making it we honestly had no idea if anyone would ever see it. That’s the truth.

Since last April I have had the remarkable fortune to travel with the film, meeting and talking with people who have been touched by it. Earlier this month the film screened for a week in New York and was reviewed, warmly, by critics and publications I’ve read for years. And, now, today it has been released out into the world. Anyone that wants it can download it now.

Thinking about this movie's digital ones and zeros -- files that were stored only on my solitary computer for so long -- now transferring through wires and cables onto others' computers, maybe even your own… It is very strange. It is also a little bittersweet. But mostly what I feel is a kind of sweet relief, which I can only liken to the feeling you get when you finally sit down after hiking through the woods for a long, long time.

Should I Get An MFA? : Pros & Cons from Someone Who Did

ASHLEY MAYNOR WRITES:

I recently got a request from a filmmaker for advice on whether or not he should go back to school to get a master's degree. As someone who did get an MFA and has both teaching and non-teaching work experience (that is, life making a living as a full-time maker) under my belt, I  thought I'd reply to the blog-o-sphere for others who are pondering the same decision: I think the first question to ask yourself is this: why do you want a degree? If you just want to learn more about filmmaking or film studies, you could do yourself much better with a library card, a Netflix subscription, some free classes on iTunesU, and slaving away as a PA on a few productions. Better yet, take the amount you'd spend on tuition and spend that time in NYC and LA working--as a PA or in an agency mailroom--cultivating your network…or buy your own DSLR and make mistakes for free in your own proverbial backyard.

To my mind, there are two strong justifications to pursue a higher degree in Film:

1) It's already paid for (i.e. you've gotten a fellowship or assistantship) and you can learn with the wonderful safety net that graduate school provides. (I do *not* recommend anyone go into debt more than the cost of an old, used car--no matter what the reputation of the school--for a film degree.)

2) It allows you to teach, which is a respectable way to support yourself as an artist, especially as someone who wants to make independent films, experimental work, or films with less-than-great commercial prospects.

If it's the latter, then you must also consider that there are beaucoups of people out there who are unemployed holders of MFAs in film. Film teaching jobs are few and far between--just take a look at the listings on the Chronicle of Higher Education or the University Film and Video Association website to get sense of the scarcity. But, if you're willing to live somewhere fairly off the grid (i.e. not in a big or even medium size city, relatively isolated from the industry and other filmmakers), then there are more positions that may have less competition. This can be a workable situation for the self-reliant or DIY type, especially if you make sure to travel several times a year to keep your inspiration levels up and industry ties strong. But, it can also be, well, depressing and frustrating. My requirements are that a job is too far off the grid if there's not a post-production or equipment rental house within a 3-hour radius. For each person, that threshold is different.

More importantly, I think the best teachers are those who also make--people who are really doing it and have a lot to offer their students in terms of work experience, connections to your industry/field, and a real-world perspective. Anything less poses an ethical dilemma for me: if you can't provide the above, why should students pay tuition to learn from you?

Another consideration for any would-be teacher is that teaching is more than a clock-in/clock-out commitment. While teaching, I more often than not put in above and beyond the 40 hours/week in terms of committee meetings, university and community service, advising, endless emails, etc., on top of my course teaching load. It's work that follows you home, unlike, say, a kind of survival job where you can punch your time card. On the other hand, summers are free for making your own work and the flexible schedule is tough to beat!

Teaching at a research-oriented institution is the ideal job, as it carries the smallest teaching load and encourages (expects, actually!) a high degree of research productivity, which for you translates into filmmaking. And some of your best students may actually be people you want to have collaborate with you on your work. These full-time positions, however, are also the rarest and most competitive. It will be expected that you have made one or more films with a certain level of success (e.g. strong festival run, distribution, critical praise, etc.), have a positive reputation in the industry (e.g. demonstrated by awards, grants, professional organizations, or other acknowledgement), and previous teaching experience. Of course, there are all kinds of schools: liberal arts colleges, typically with a strong emphasis on teaching and student relationships; community colleges, who usually emphasis both teaching and community service; for-profit schools and film programs (which I don't have any first-hand experience with); and part-time teaching positions.

Adjuncting is fairly common for new MFAs, but the pay is rarely great and usually does not carry any fringe benefits, such as health care. That said, I know many a freelance film producer and writer/director who use adjunct classes and part-time lecturing as a way to have some sort of stable income while spending the bulk of their time as makers.

It's also worth saying that there are folks who do teach without an MFA. Guest lectureships, artist visits, workshops both at universities and community organizations often pay successful filmmakers to share their knowledge in short or long-term capacities. I've had a few of these gigs and they are usually a lot of fun but were never enough to sustain me in and of themselves. After a certain level of success, though, it's not unheard of for a filmmaker to become a professor without an MFA at all…but we all can imagine those odds.

So, to sum up:

 Why Getting an MFA/Teaching is a Good Idea: 

  • Stable income without selling your soul.

  • Great schedule.

  • Intellectual and creative freedom for the kind of work you make without as much commercial pressure as full-time filmmaking or freelancing.

  • Helping shape the future of the industry.

 Why Getting an MFA/Teaching is a Not-So-Good Idea: 

  • Highly competitive, especially for desirable cities/schools.

  • Lots of responsibilities beyond teaching for full-time positions.

  • You need to be a maker before you become a teacher. And teaching will take time away from making.

If after all this, you want to take the back-to-school plunge, then I recommend you check out these previous posts from the blog. They will give you a good start on the advice we'd give about looking for a film program:

So You Wanna Go to Film School Part I 

So You Wanna Go to Film School Part II

DIY Catering Part II: 4 Easy Ways to Go Green(er)

ASHLEY MAYNOR WRITES:

A few posts ago, I shared the first part of this series of tips on DIY Film Catering. (To read about 5 Essential Catering Tools under $50, go here.) This time, I focus on the seemingly impossible task of making a film with a small environmental footprint--there always seem to be compromises for the sake of convenience, time, or the other kind of green (money). While it's not always easiest or cheapest to take the eco-option, I have found four simple ways to keep our film catering a little bit greener without taking up too much time or cash:

1. Use Recycled Paper Plates + Compostable or Metal Flatwear: When faced with on-the-go shooting days, rustic or outdoor locations, recycled compostable plates and compostable corn-based flatware make clean-up easy and more affordable than you might think. Even Sam's carries 100% recycled, chlorine-free plates these days, so this "green" step can be nearly as cheap and convenient as using their plastic and styrofoam counterparts.

When we find ourselves in a semi-equipped location (i.e. an indoor location, especially one with a kitchen), I'll bring metal flatware, which cast and crew place in a plastic bin at the end of meals and I throw into a dishwasher that night for the next day. Caterer style stainless steel flatware sets can be had for cheap -- and, in the long run, are much more cost-effective than the environmentally-friendly disposable kind: They will last a lifetime!

Finally, if disposable coffee cups are a must for your set, opt for something like Chinet's Comfort Cups or Dixie's Vanity Fair Cups which paper-based and have recyclable plastic lids. Again, these are found at most major retailers and are less evil than their styrofoam versions.

2. Require BYO-Bottles &  Provide A Refill Station: Our film sets are BYO-water bottle for all crew. I also keep a few extra stainless steel bottles on hand for talent, PAs, and the inevitable forgotten bottles. Having designated, labeled bottles helps to cut down on waste--no more unidentified, half-drunk plastic bottles lying around! And I've found that many crew will keep their bottles attached to their belt loops with a carabiner. This constant access equals more hydration and less fatigue on set.

I recommend stainless steel over plastic since (a) you can avoid the whole BPA issue, (b) they are less likely to develop odors/bacteria, and (c) they can go through the dishwasher. You could even have some specially printed for your crew to keep as mementos from the shoot! (If you really want to go all out, you can get hot/cold insulated ones that will keep water cold and coffee hot and that don't "sweat" with condensation.)

Secondly, part of our BYOB system includes a refillable 2-gallon Brita Filter water dispenser to provide fresh, tasty water on set, using any available tap, without contributing at all to the world's bottled water dilemma.

3. Use Aluminum Food Prep Containers: Any Costco or Sam's can set you up with the industrial strength, catering style disposable aluminum pans. Because they are so heavy duty, you can actually use them several times (but don't put them in the dishwasher--they will turn brown!). Unlike glass casseroles, they won't break and unlike plastic they won't retain odor from other foods. They are great for transporting and storing cold food or you can also use them to heat hot food, either in the oven or using a sterno-catering setup on set. Best of all, you can recycle them at the end!

4. Keep Trash & Recycling Bins on Set: It can be a pain, at times, to provide both trash AND recycling bins but I just can't stand the waste on film sets. Even with our BYO-Bottle system, caffeine can create lots of waste on set. So, I make an effort to buy all sodas in aluminum (since it can be recycled many more times than plastic and without the toxicity) and recycle those at the end of each shoot day. If this seems like too much of a hassle, try using something like the Flings pop-up recycle bin and trash can--these are reusable, much more portable than traditional bins, and they might just make it easy enough for you and your crew to go greener!

 At Self-Reliant Film, we believe that the way you make something shapes what that thing is. So, while recycling on set or using biodegradable products might seem like a low priority, especially when working with budgets where every cent counts, we think even these small decisions can shape the work we're making. We want the stories in our films to be responsible (i.e. to tell uncommon stories with integrity and respect for the region where we make and set our work) and we believe a big part of that responsibility begins with how we treat the set, our crew, and the environment that makes it all possible in the first place.

If you have other easy ways to keep film sets more eco-conscious, we'd love to hear about it. Please share in the comments!

 

DIY Catering Part I: 5 Essential Tools under $50 for Low-Budget Film Catering

As we take a short break from our Fresh Filmmakers interview series, I'd like to share some of my tips and tricks for catering even the most low-budget of film shoots. Preparing your own meals rather than hiring professional catering or eating out can mean BIG savings, not to mention healthier and more eco-friendly options. With a small investment in a few tools, this can also become a relatively easy thing to DIY. Here are some essentials for the novice film set caterer (or micro-budget producer who is also caterer!) getting started:

--Hot Beverage Airpots--At just $15-25 each, these are worth their weight in gold; industrial quality ones with glass interiors will keep coffee and water piping hot for 8 hours. I use three on set (2 for coffee, one for water for making tea) for a crew of 10-15. These are easily purchased at a nice discount compared to online stores at most big box grocery outlets, such as Costco or Sam's Club.

--Crock Pot--Whether it's a soup-n-sandwich lunch, a roast dinner, or a hearty mac-n-cheese, crock pots make it easy to have a hot meal on even the most bare bones of sets/locations--all you need is a place to plug in! I recommend you get a big one; plan to spend between $30-50. For even more rugged shoots with no power source available, you can also consider a camping stove or single, kitchen-grade (portable) gas burner, combined with a large pot or skillet.

--Rolling Cooler--While I use reusable water bottles on set (more on this in a future post), a cooler is essential for toting sodas and perishable food items or cold meals. Do yourself (and your back) a favor and get one with wheels for about $50.

--Ziplocs, Post-It Labels & Sharpie--I find myself labeling bags of food for actors with special diets, repacking bulk food items into smaller containers to save money, etc. Also, after each shopping trip, I label all of the food in the fridge with the corresponding shoot day. This allows me to easily delegate food prep to other crew members or PAs on hectic shoot days.

--Camping-Size, Adjustable Folding Table --This miniature version of the traditional folding table will pack up easily in the backseat of a small car or standard size trunk and can easily turn a parking lot space into a craft services area. Budget about $50 for one of these online.

I will often open the hatchback trunk of my small SUV, instantly turning the trunk into ongoing coffee/beverage area and provide snacks (all-day) and meals (every 5-6 hours) available on the folding table. I use a combination of the rolling cooler and a few $10 Ikea folding chairs as seats when the location is too small, when all or part of the set is "hot" and food poses a continuity danger/problem, or when locations aren't able to accommodate our crew for this purpose. So, for a mere $150, you can ensure the ability to serve food on a film set most anywhere.

While craft services and good food might seems like a luxury for low and micro-budget filmmakers, I believe that providing quality food, beverages, and snacks on set keeps morale high--especially when folks aren't being paid. From a producing standpoint, there's simply no better cost-to-value line item in my budgets.

In upcoming installments, I'll share more ideas for making greener, healthier, and relatively inexpensive menu and catering choices. Stay tuned!

A Dozen Useful, Low-Budget Camera-Related Items

As you may have gathered from Ashley's recent post about art department lifesavers we have been doing some filming lately. After several days on set, I've come to deeply appreciate some small, even seemingly minor, accessories and pieces of camera-related equipment -- "kit" in industry parlance. I thought I'd discuss a few of these items, each of which is under $200. We're using a Sony FS100, a Red Rock Micro follow focus and low-rise baseplate, an assortment of Nikon lenses, and a Heliopan variable ND filter, but many of the items listed below would be at home on a DSLR-based shoot or a shoot with a more traditional video camera (Sony EX1, Panasonic HVX200, etc).

Zip tie lens gears. Lenses that were designed for stills, not cinema, lack a gear that allows them to be used with a follow focus. One solution would have been to use the gear rings that we had from Red Rock Micro. These are functional, but they have a number of disadvantages: they're large, they can be time consuming to put on/take off, and at $40 each, they're overpriced. Zip tie lens gears are inexpensive and easy-to-add to every lens you own. Once on your lens, you can forget about them. $40 for 3. 

Wet Erase Markers A good set of wet-erase markers will help you make marks on your follow focus ring. We like wet erase, not dry erase, markers because the dry erase ones will smear. $7.

Filter pouch. Our Heliopan Variable ND filter comes in a less-than-ideal case. It's a very tight fit, to the point of seeming like it could scratch or scuff the glass. We quickly bought a filter pouch to protect our investment. $9.

77mm step up rings and lens caps. We use a 77mm variable ND filter on set, which at that size has the ability to cover all of our lenses when using step-up rings. After a few days of filming with one step-up ring per size needed (e.g., a 52-to-77, a 62-to-77, etc.) we found that we were being slowed down by having to unscrew the step-up rings from lens to lens, particularly when so many of our most-used lenses (e.g., 28, 35, 50) all had a 52mm threading. So we splurged and purchased the necessary step up rings for all of our lenses. Now all of our lenses have a 77mm "face" (and accompanying lens cap). Though step up rings seem like an inexpensive piece of kit, read the reviews and buy a reputable brand like B+W, Heliopan, etc. Lesser step up rings can seize up, making that expensive variable ND filter a big headache! Step-up rings: $25 - $45.  Lens caps: $5.

Lens cleaning tools.  We switch lenses and filters often, which means more chance of dirtying them. We keep our glass clean with: Nikon Lens Pen. $7 Kimwipes. $5 Purosol Lens Cleaner. $8

Lilliput 7" 668GL On-camera HD Monitor In 2010 I read about Lilliput's small, inexpensive HD monitors. At the time, they only seemed to be sold on Ebay. I bought one off almost as a novelty, not expecting much from it since it was so much cheaper than other HD monitors on the market. While its picture is not as vivid or high resolution as that of other portable HD monitors I've used, it works, it's lightweight, and it's far more affordable. The one I bought over a year ago didn't have a battery pack like the new ones they make, so I had to buy an Ikan battery AC/DC adapter plate, which allows me to use Sony batteries with it. The new models, which you can purchase through Amazon, now come with their own battery solution and component inputs. As for its application, I tend not to use it if I'm operating camera myself, but when working with a DP or camera operator I use it as my "director's monitor." It's especially useful when filming in tight spaces (like a car -- see below) where using your camera's LCD monitor or viewfinder isn't an option.  $170.

HDMI Cables It's nice to have different lengths of HDMI cables to use with the Lilliput monitor. I've used these Insignia brand cables on set for a few weeks and haven't had any problems. One's a 9 footer, one's a 3 footer. $10.

FilmTools Gripper 116 XL car mount. Trying to shoot smooth car footage handheld , particularly with a CMOS sensor prone to "jell-o", can be a test of one's patience. This FilmTools car mount affixes to your car's windows or windshield with a large suction cup and will support cameras up to 9 pounds. $110.

Coleman LED Quad Lantern This ingenious LED lantern can be split into four smaller LED sections, which have a functionality similar to micro Litepanels at a fraction of the cost. We've used the "quads" for driving shots by hiding them on the ceiling, in the dashboard, and on the floor. Beyond driving, they're useful for any situation where you might not have access to power and don't need to light a large area. And if you need more light than one puts off, you can gaff tape them together. Though they're not necessarily color corrected like a those designed for video use, they work great if you throw a gel on them or dial in the appropriate color balance setting on your camera. Plus, when you're not filming, the lantern can be used for camping -- you can't say that about a micro Litepanel! $58.

Two-Way Radios Or, as laymen call them, "walkie talkies." I'm usually not working on a set that's so large that we all need to be outfitted with professional two-way radios and headsets. That said, it's nice to have an inexpensive set on hand for those occasions when your cast and/or crew is in different areas. I find them essential when shooting exterior car scenes (i.e., those in which the camera's outside the car, filming actors driving). It's the easiest way I know to cue talent or ask for another take. Roughly $35-$75, depending on features.

Canare breakaway cable For the uninitiated, a breakaway cable consolidates multiple XLR and mini cables into one neat cable, which can be run from a location audio mixer to a camera (or audio recorder). Though it may seem overpriced for what is seemingly a bunch of XLR and mini plug cables wrapped together, if you're using a mixer and feeding that audio into your camera the simplicity, organization, and mobility that a breakaway cable provides is well worth the cost. In addition to feeding your camera two tracks of audio with one cable, a good breakaway cable also give the sound mixer a means to listen to the "return" audio instead of the audio from the sound mixer. This is the best way to monitor the audio being mixed, so for me it's worth the investment. $190.

15 Essential (and Inexpensive) Tools for Wardrobe, Hair, & Make-Up

Filmmakers love to talk about tools. The blog-o-sphere is rampant with posts about cameras, lights, and cinematography accessories, but despite all the attention on achieving great looking films from an equipment/technology standpoint, there is far less discussion about low-fi ways to make your film look like a million bucks via attention to wardrobe, hair, and make-up. I've recently jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon, catching up on the last four seasons. Whether you love or hate this show (a quick look at the Mad Men Wikipedia page will give a sense of the heated debates this show has provoked among critics), it's hard not to be in awe of its production values, in general, and art direction, in particular. While probably no one reading this post has the budget that Mad Men does, it doesn't mean we shouldn't attend to art direction with the same care.

Both as a film festival programmer and as a university instructor, I have seen how, all too often, art direction (much like sound design!) is neglected in first films and student films. It's easy to spot an amateur effort when gangsters are wearing Converse One-Stars (yep, I've actually seen this) or an MRI machine is made out of cardboard (After Last Season, anyone?).

A single post can't address the complex and time-consuming process of art direction--how to do it, how to do it well, and how to do it on a budget--but assuming art direction is receiving at least some of the attention it needs in your production, here are fifteen of my favorite inexpensive tools--none of them should run you more than $25--to help get you through the inevitable wardrobe, hair, and make-up emergencies:

  1. Fanny Pack -- While these might conjure memories of bad '80s fashion or annoying tourists, a good art director has essential tools on her at all times (without needing to run to find her tool bag) and needs her hands free. And, unlike decades past, you can find cute and functional fanny packs these days. Try Natural Life for styles with flair or Mountain Smith lumbar packs for a more muted look. All of the supplies/tools below should fit into your pack.
  2. Downy Wrinkle Releaser -- Wrinkles are a continuity nightmare, and on a DIY set, lugging and plugging in a clothing steamer or iron isn't practical. This spray works best on cotton or cotton blends; avoid using it on delicate fabrics (e.g. silk, satin).
  3. Mini Lint Roller -- Keep hair, link, and other fuzzies off of clothing to help preserve continuity.
  4. Mini Sewing Kit, with needle/safety pins and mini scissors. -- Fix rips, tears, or buttons right on set. In a pinch, borrow some gaffer's tape to repair a seam--I've created makeshift curtains on set with fabric and gaff tape alone.
  5. Seam Ripper -- If you have never used one of these before, prepare to be amazed! Seam rippers are specialized tools--something between a razor blade and scissors--with a very pointed tip and sharp base. Unlike scissors, the tiny point can be easily threaded under a stitch for easily cutting out seams without hurting the surrounding fabric or causing holes. Remove an annoying clothing tag, lengthen a hem, or deconstruct a garment in seconds!
  6. Flexible Body Measuring Tape-- You'd be surprised how often you can use this, either for wardrobe measurements or on loan to the camera department for focus pulling and actor marks when they've forgotten or misplaced their measuring tape.
  7. Instant Stain Remover (such as Tide To-Go mini) -- This really works on stains caused by foundation, lipstick, and coffee -- three common art emergencies. I prefer the stain remover pens to the wipes, as they don't rub the stain into the fabric.
  8. Clear Medical Tape (and/or double-sided Fashion Tape) -- Medical tape is sweat-proof and nearly invisible on skin--great for taping lavs to bare skin or securing clothing straps. Fashion tape comes in pre-cut double-sided strips and is great for invisibly holding clothing in place.
  9. Mini First Aid Kit with Blister Cushions and assortment of travel size packs of Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Pepto Bismol/Bug Repellant/Sunscreen -- The producer should have a full-blown first aid kit on set at all times, but I like to have supplies of my own for the unexpected emergency situation or when that kit is out of reach. Blister blocker band-aids are amazing for stopping blisters but can also be used to protect skin from irritation from mic packs or other costume nuisances. Having pain killers and stomach ache cures on hand is essential for keeping talent and crew happy. I also like to keep Hot Hands available for cold mornings on set.
  10. Assorted Bobby Pins -- Having a few sizes and colors (gold for blonds, black for brunettes) will help hold stray hair in place, pin back clothing, etc.
  11. Sharpies -- I use black to cover scuff marks, silver for writing on black gaffer tape, and red for when I need what I'm writing to be seen! You might want to get the mini sharpies that can be tied to lanyards for instant access around your neck.
  12. Concealer, such as Max Factor Pan Stick , to cover blemishes. This pan stick will also cover tattoos fairly well (if airbrushing isn't in your budget--ha!) and the price is right. A shine reducing, translucent powder is also make-up's best friend.
  13. Hand Sanitizer -- Alcohol based ones double as stain removers and can take out ink stains fairly well.
  14. Breath Mints or Gum -- Again, the talent will love you for this.
  15. Super Glue -- I recommend a few of the mini tubes for situations where tape won't do.

If you've got other art tools you can't live without, please let me know in the comments!

Attending to wardrobe, hair, and make-up comes with less glory (and, perhaps, on the positive side, ego) than that of Cinematographer or Director, but it's no less responsible for making the difference between a successful film and an unsuccessful one. It can make the story world credible or incredible, real or surreal. What's more essential than that?

UFVA 2011 - DIY: Distribute It Yourself

I'm moderating a panel today at the University Film & Video Conference in Boston. The panel's called, "DIY: Distribute It Yourself." My other esteemed panelists are Bart Weiss, Caitlin Horsmon, and Ashley Maynor. As part of the panel, I'm giving a talk on social networking and film distribution. Among other things, my talk suggests that there are (at least) ten questions you should ask of yourself as you start to think about social media with regards to any film project. Instead of asking my audience to remember (or write down) those ten questions, I'm posting them here:

Am I trying to connect with my audience for one film (or issue) or for a body of work?

Who are these audiences?

What makes me/my work distinctive, especially to my audience?

How might I use social media to manage expectations of my work?

Where do my audiences congregate online?

What style/forms of communication does my audience trust?

What modes of communication would be most useful between me and my audience?

What do I want people to do after seeing my work? (e.g., take political action, buy my DVD, change a behavior, etc.)

What and how much do I want to share -- of my project, and of myself?

How much time can I commit to working on promotion and distribution via social media ?

 

Also, at the end of my talk I'm sharing a few excellent resources with regards to social media and/or film. Here they are:

Think Outside the Box Office -- both the book and the website

Friends, Fans, and Followers by Scott Kirsner

Tribeca Film Social Media Toolkit

Workbook Project

Social Networking Sites and Our Lives - The Pew Internet & American Life Project

Big Boards

Mashable

UPDATE (from Ashley):

The blog post I mentioned in my presentation, by Ted Hope, which is still relevant for those with films without distribution, can be found here. If you want to follow his blog, it's now hosted at Indiewire here.

How to Build a Lens Collection

Today I was reading a camera discussion forum in which someone asked how to build a lens collection on a budget. He was looking for Nikon lenses to use on a Sony NEX-FS100 camera. I could relate -- I was in his position in 2006 when I started to look for Nikon glass to be used on video cameras with a Letus, on the Red One, and so on. I hadn't purchased a lens since my senior year in high school (for my venerable Pentax K-1000), and I knew only the most basic things to look for. Since then I've built up a nice collection of Nikon lenses, which now work on a host of cameras. I love my Nikons and have no regrets!

So what follows are some very basic tips I've learned on how to build a lens collection. I make a few allusions to Nikons vis-a-vis the NEX-FS100 below, but my advice could just as easily be interpolated for someone buying Canon lenses for the Red Epic or a Panasonic AF-100.

1) Determine your needs. Obviously, you need to think about what kind of coverage you want. Even if you primarily shoot wide angle footage, you probably also want a normal and a telephoto lens in your bag. But only you know your tastes. Likewise, only you know your budget. You're going to be keeping this in mind as you build a list and prioritize your needs.

But beyond these things, there are other considerations:

What cameras now and in the future, might you use these lenses on? Do your lenses need to be full-frame to be future-proof? Must they have aperture rings? I prefer having aperture rings on my lenses because I sometimes have to use "dumb" adapters (i.e., those that can't control aperture).

Since I was working with a very limited budget, for me, the most important question when I began building my collection was whether to go for primes or zooms. I primarily would be using these lenses to shoot narrative work so I opted for primes; if I was shooting a documentary, I'd want a good zoom lens (if I was shooting with the NEX-FS100, would actually just get the Sony kit lens since autofocus is nice to have in a pinch).

The thing to remember about zooms intended for still lenses is that they are often not parfocal, which means that they don't hold focus across the zoom. (Some are. You have to test to find out.) To me, a non-parfocal zoom negates at least part of the purpose of having a zoom, so that's another reason I went with primes.

2) Familiarize yourself with the lenses that are out there. Researching Nikons, I visited sites like Photozone and those by Bjorn Rorslett (go to the LENSES page and then dig deep into his reviews, especially the "Best of" page) or Ken Rockwell. Different people trust different reviewers (some people HATE Ken Rockwell, for example). But the point is this: When all the websites praise a lens, that's a pretty good sign of a winner.

I'm obsessive, so I prefer to make lists and tables of all the lenses I'm considering. It helps me keep track of what I've looked at, the (dis)advantages of each, and the price.

3) Read reviews, but with a grain of salt. Remember that if you're only going to use lenses for video, you don't have to fret about their resolving power nearly as much. A lens intended for full frame negative film or a 16MP digital camera must resolve far more detail than you'll ever get out of HD or even 4K video. For example, many lens testers worry about blurring in the corners; you don't have to worry about this quite as much since using a full frame lens on a Super35 sensor means you're using the sweetest spot of the lens.

Having said all of this, I do think you should buy the best lenses you can afford. Like microphones, and unlike video cameras, they tend to hold their value for much longer. In 20 years we may be shooting with cameras that capture 8K footage… and it's possible I could still be using my Nikons.

4) Test. Try out the lenses you're considering, especially if they're pricey. Assuming you don't have a friend who happens to have all the Nikons ever made, your two best options for testing are a) visit a fantastic photo store in your area and try out the lenses or, if you don't have a great photo store (I don't), b) rent the lenses. I've saved a lot of money by spending a few bucks to rent a bunch of lenses and then buying the one that I actually like. (I have happily used and endorse LensRentals.com. I have received no promotional consideration for that endorsement.)

5) Buy used (if possible) and buy smartly (always).

Start by finding out the going price for a used lenses by visiting KEH and the going rate for a new version on B+H or Adorama.

If KEH has the lens, and you have the money, buy a lens from them -- they grade their lenses very fairly and have a great return policy. (Again, I've received nothing from them for this endorsement.)

If they don't have it, or it's too pricey, go for one on buy on Ebay, keeping the KEH prices in mind. If you're going for AI-S lenses you can get GREAT bargains on Ebay since many photographers, needing autofocus, consider these obsolete lenses. When buying on Ebay all the usual cautions apply. Make sure the seller has fantastic ratings and that the photos clearly show the quality of the lens. Only bid on the lenses that look pristine.

Whatever you do, don't overpay! If a lens on Ebay starts approaching anything close to its price on KEH, just get it on KEH and be done with it. The return policy will be far better than the risks you take with an Ebay seller. Or wait for another auction.

6) Watch for warning signs and, if necessary, seek help. I say this jokingly, but building a lens collection can be addictive fun -- and can distract you from the real purpose of building a collection, which is to go out and film! Don't say you weren't warned.

If you have other tips or disagree with any of the above, share in the comments below.

Adobe, Avid and FCP X: Resources for Switching

If you currently use Final Cut Studio you're going to have to switch to something different at some point. That might mean "upgrading" to FCP X, or moving to a competitor's product, like Adobe Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer. To aid this, I've included links to demo versions and free/paid tutorials.

Demo Software
Final Cut Pro X Demo download link: No demo version available. A 30-day demo version is now available here. Cost of full application: $299, plus $49 for Compressor and $49 for Motion.

Adobe Creative Suite 5.5: Production Premium Demo download link:Adobe CS 5.5 Production Premium 30-day Trial Version Includes Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Encore, Audition, Illustrator, On Location and more. Cost of full application: 50% off ($849.50) thanks to a limited time "switch" promotion! Regularly $1650 for the suite of applications; $440 for the same suite in its "student/teacher" edition. (PremierePro can also be bought separately, but this is not nearly the same value as the bundle, which includes After Effects, Audition, Encore, etc.)

Avid Media Composer Demo download link:Avid Media Composer 5 Free 30-day Trial Cost of full application: $995 thanks to a limited time "switch" promotion. Regularly $2295; $295 for educational edition.

Lightworks Finally, it should be noted that Lightworks -- a professional editing application used to cut such films as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, and The King's Speech -- has gone open source for Windows and is slated for a late-2011 release on the Mac. If you currently have a dual-boot Mac, this is definitely a no-risk option to consider.

 

Tutorials
Final Cut Pro X

IzzyVideo: Final Cut Pro X Tutorial Cost: Free! Notes: Over 2.5 hours of training videos, plus project files. I don't expect this to go into a ton of detail, but what I've watched so far seems pretty good, and you can't beat the price.

Ripple Training: FCP X Cost: $40 Notes: I've used Ripple Training tutorials for earlier editions of Final Cut Pro, and I find them very efficient ways of getting up to speed on the application. These download to your iPad or computer through the iTunes store.

Larry Jordan: FCP X Cost: $99 for the entire set of tutorials. Or chapters for $15 each. Notes: Larry Jordan's previous FCP tutorials have been very good, but I can't say whether these are worth the extra cost over the Ripple tutorials. Jordan's tutorials have a little more personality than Ripple's, which is a pro or con depending on your taste.

 

***
Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe: Editing With Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 If You're an Final Cut Pro user Cost: Free! Notes: A PDF that lays it all out -- straight from Adobe. Clearly they are in it to win it.

Adobe: Switching to Adobe Premiere Pro 5 Cost: Free! Notes: Covers same info as above, but in video form. About 80 minutes of tutorials to help you make the switch from FCP to Premiere Pro. Probably not enough to train you completely, but enough to let you reassure you that switching to Adobe would be a simple transition.

Adobe: Adobe TV - Learn Premiere Pro CS5 Cost: Free! Notes: Excerpts from the Lynda.com training listed below. Probably not a solution for advanced training.

Adobe: Learn Premiere Pro CS5 and CS 5.5 Cost: Free! Notes: Mostly text-based tutorials.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS5 Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 5 hours of training videos on Premiere Pro.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS 5.5 New Features Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 27min of tutorials about new features in PP 5.5. You would want to watch this after the tutorials listed above.

Lynda.com: Encore CS 5 - Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 4hrs of tutorials on Adobe's DVD authoring application.

Lynda.com: Audition 3 Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 6.5 hrs on Adobe's audio editing application. Doesn't appear to be fully up-to-date for CS5.5 version of the application.

Lynda.com: After Effects (various) Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: Hours upon hours of tutorials for Adobe's acclaimed effects and post-production application. Newcomers should start with After Effects Apprentice, which is 14 hours over 7 lessons.

 

***
Avid Media Composer

Avid: Avid Media Composer 5: Getting Started Cost: Free! Notes: 3 hours of tutorials from Avid to get you started on Media Composer.

Lynda.com: Avid Media Composer 5 - Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: Nearly 6 hours of tutorials on Avid. This appears to replicate some of the free training Avid provides, but at twice the length, one assumes it also goes into more depth.

Avid: Avid for FCP Users Cost: $50 Notes: DVD-based tutorial. Does not appear to be available online.

Apple's FCP X FAQ: Reading Between the Lines

Apple today posted a FCP X Answers To Common Questions page in attempts to address some pro editors concerns (read: "do damage control") about the new application. While it brings some much-needed clarity to some questions (about sharing projects, etc.) many of the answers (to their own carefully phrased) questions talk around the issues. Below I've offered my highly-subjective and quite likely wrong translations of some of the more curious Q+A sections of Apple's FAQ. I'm no fortune teller, and if I'm wrong I will be happy to be wrong. But this is a very carefully worded document and, as is often the case with PR statements, what's not said is as important as what is.

Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X? Their answer: Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. In addition, Final Cut Pro X features new and redesigned audio effects, video effects, and color grading tools. Because of these changes, there is no way to “translate” or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you’re already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so after installing Final Cut Pro X, and Final Cut Pro 7 will work with Mac OS X Lion. You can also import your media files from previous versions into Final Cut Pro X. My translation: "No. And do not get your hopes up about this ever working. But it might -- we said might -- be something that works in limited fashion via XML, possibly through a 3rd party plugin, in the future.

Can Final Cut Pro X export XML? Apple's answer: Not yet, but we know how important XML export is to our developers and our users, and we expect to add this functionality to Final Cut Pro X. We will release a set of APIs in the next few weeks so that third-party developers can access the next-generation XML in Final Cut Pro X. My translation: "We're going to enable XML export. And, who knows, maybe XML import... Wait and see." Hey, your guess is as good as mine (probably even better), but it sounds as if they will add the ability to export XML, though the wording is vague enough that one could interpret it to mean that they're going to rely on third parties to develop an XML export plugin. Also, curious is the fact that they say nothing of XML import, particularly since some detective work by others has shown that Apple appears to have been developing XML import capabilities in the program's code. Maybe I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt. (That's something I've not said many times in the last few days.) 

Does Final Cut Pro X support OMF, AAF, and EDLs? Apple's answer: Not yet. When the APIs for XML export are available, third-party developers will be able to create tools to support OMF, AAF, EDL, and other exchange formats. We have already worked with Automatic Duck to allow you to export OMF and AAF from Final Cut Pro X using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp/. My translation: "We're outsourcing some of the pro features you used to find in Final Cut Studio. This is one reason we've lowered FCP X's price tag to $299. So we don't have to develop this stuff. So get out your checkbook, but remember that FCP X, Compressor and Motion are under $400. You can spend the money you used to spend on Final Cut Studio to add back the functionality to which you're accustomed. This a la carte approach is a way for us to get advanced hobbyists on board and to try to keep pros."

Can I send my project to a sound editing application such as Pro Tools? Apple's Answer: Yes; you can export your project in OMF or AAF format using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp My translation: "Um, yeah, if it wasn't clear from above, we're outsourcing those pro features."

As I said, I'm quite possibly wrong about these things -- and maybe way off the mark. I'm speculating, but that's because Apple is -- even after releasing a FAQ -- still asking us to speculate.

If I am right, and the new approach is a la carte features, well, I'm not sure that's actually a bad move. Other vendors developing these tools means that things might be better and more quickly developed than they would if Apple was doing them. They are, after all, a consumer electronics company now. Again, assuming this is the case, the big questions are:

What will be the final cost of adding in these various plug-ins, etc.?

Will Final Cut Pro X remain the bargain that Apple's touting it to be?

And, perhaps most importantly, if FCP X lacks professional features without the use of plug-ins, does using plug-ins on a somewhat less-than-fully-pro application trump using something like Avid, Premiere Pro, or Lightworks?

We shall see. Later this week I'll be posting some switching resources... because if you use FCP 7 you're switching, one way or another, to an entirely new edit suite.

EDIT (6.29.11 12:14pm): Made some changes to the XML-related Q+A -- one typo had changed the entire meaning, so I revised my interpretive paragraph.

FCP X User…. or Ex-FCP User? Some thoughts.

For the most part, this is not a review of FCP X. If you must know, I've used FCP X a little bit and I like its sleek interface and speed but, even more, I miss a lot of Final Cut Studio's functionality, particularly Color. If FCP X matures into something more professional (i.e., more robust editor, plus a truly sophisticated color grading tool) I might embrace it. If it doesn't, I will embrace something else. The biggest problem for me, and for many others I suspect, is that I don't know where it's going and what it will become.

What's been most puzzling in the aftermath of the FCP X is that so many people outside the professional production community -- journalists, software developers, consumer video hobbyists, etc. -- have tried to serve as apologists for Apple even though they have little experience editing professionally (i.e., for works that are publicly exhibited in broadcast, theatrical, or home video environments).

So, instead of reviewing the program in depth, I want to add my $0.02 to the ongoing FCP X debate by trying to articulate very clearly why I and others are frustrated with Apple and -- yes -- why we're considering switching.

In the Q+A format below I try to address these (sometime maddening) comments.

Let me point out that the comments to which I'm replying are composites or, at times, actual quotes (marked with asterisks) of comments I've found in news articles, message boards and elsewhere. And if you don't believe me, Google them.

"Editors are stupid if they upgraded on day one. I don’t know any pro I’d hire who jumps into something brand new and gets rid of their old stuff immediately." * I know of no one who threw out FCP 7 and assumed they'd jump straight to FCP X. Indeed, no pro worth her/his salt would ever migrate from one FCP version to a new one in the middle of a project. Final Cut 7 was an aging application that lacked many well-integrated features found in Premiere Pro and Avid. Editors have been begging for a new release of Final Cut for years. It's logical for editors to be excited to try it. If anything, the number of pros that downloaded it on its release date shows a lot of passion for the Final Cut brand!

"How can you expect a brand new product to be fully functioning and have all its features included on Day One?"* Actually, for two reasons: First, because no previous version of Final Cut Pro reduced functionality of its predecessor when it was released. And, secondly, because Final Cut Studio 3 was pulled on the same day, suggesting that the old Final Cut was indeed replaced by FCP X.

Apple can't have it both ways -- FCP X is either:

a) an update -- and hence it can carry the name "Final Cut Pro", and should be reasonably expected to carry over the same feature set, or

b) not an update -- and so can be forgiven for not having the same features as Final Cut Pro, but it should not be named as such.

By using X instead of "10" Apple may be trying to have it both ways… but they can't. It's wrong to claim the "Final Cut" name for marketing purposes, but not own the legacy of expectations associated with the application -- particularly when doing so casts the new version in a bad light.

"Your Final Cut Studio 3 suite of applications still work." "No one is forcing you to upgrade." "I was unaware that we lived in a world where software upgrades were mandatory."* Because FCS3 has been declared end-of-life, at some point -- perhaps soon, maybe in years -- it will no longer work, either because of an OS upgrade, changes in hardware, failure to support a new camera, etc. Transitioning to SOMETHING new is inevitable.

Since FCP X doesn't allow one to open Final Cut Pro 7 projects, FCP7's usefulness is today greatly reduced for the future, assuming one plans to adopt FCP X. As a point of comparison, Adobe Premiere Pro, for example, can open FCP 7 projects. (For an explanation of why opening legacy projects matters, see below.)

Finally, the issue for those of us in the educational community who teach editing is a pressing one. For us, Apple has forced a moment of decision. Beginning in August, when classes begin for most of us, we must decide whether to:

a) teach a "dead" application, which students cannot even purchase for themselves; b) switch to an unfinished application that does not yet include features that are important in any professional's skill set; c) switch to another company's application (e.g., Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, etc.).

In such a scenario, option "C" begins to look like the most logical solution.

"I haven’t seen a negative review of FCP yet from someone who took 10 minutes to learn about how it was new and then gave it a fair shot. All the bashing I’ve seen has been dishonest, by people who presume that, because something works differently in FCPX than FCP7, it is simply impossible to do."* Clearly, if anyone knows what's possible and what's not possible to do in the application, it is Larry Jordan, one of the leading teachers of Final Cut Pro. Jordan had access to a pre-release version and has been selling FCP X tutorials since Day One. Here is a quote from his blog:

In FCP X, Apple got some things amazingly right. But they also got key features amazingly wrong. And if they don’t change course, this software, which has significant potential, is going to spin further and further out of control. At which point, its feature set is irrelevant, its reputation will be set. We’ll be looking at another Mac Cube.

"The nay-sayers of this application fear change." First, this argument contradicts the earlier argument that "editors are stupid to try to adopt this on Day One." (See above.)

The people that I know that are the most pissed off are, in fact, longtime FCP users who were looking forward to FCP X's release. They were looking forward to the release because they had been waiting for an update to the application for several years. Several features announced in April by Apple about the new FCP X were exciting -- 64 bit support, support for H264 footage, renders being a thing of the past… If these things had been delivered without "taking away" features that many editors use in their day-to-day work, most editors would have raced to adopt and embrace the other, less familiar aspects of the new application (say, the new user interface).

"The FUD from “pros” are not pros at all – they are competitors from Avid, Adobe, and every little editing software maker who are literally QUAKING in their boots at the incredible bargain that FCPX brings. Period."* To account for the backlash against FCP X with this kind of explanation is paranoid. I'm reminded of the quote, sometimes attributed to Twain, "Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."

"Why the hell should a 7 project open in FCPX? That makes no sense. The entire flippin program has been redesigned. Finish your project in 7 and shut up."* The ability to open old project files is essential to any pro or semi-pro editor. Whether working for clients or for oneself, motion picture project files are often re-opened and tinkered with for years after their initial completion. Reasons for this can include such things as revising a corporate video with a client's new logo, updating a stereo project for surround sound, creating a Blu-ray project for a project that was once released on DVD or even VHS, creating a closed-captioned version to meet new accessibility guidelines, and so on. I could go on for pages about such changes, but I think I've made my point.

"Only a tiny segment of pros actually have a need for OMF, XML, EDL, tape output, etc." You're probably right -- most of us don't use these things on a daily basis. But that's like saying "Most drivers, on a daily basis, don't need airbags."

OMF, XML, EDL and other features pros are lamenting are professional, which is to say that many of the programs you see on television, in theaters, at film festivals on on DVD run across the need for these specialized tools at critical junctures in their projects. Not all projects need these tools, and not all projects that need them use them daily. But they are critical.

Speaking personally, I often edit my own projects and my projects often stay on one computer, but even then I will use OMF or XML to share these projects with collaborators (e.g., a sound editor using ProTools or a color grader using a Da Vinci suite). These are essential steps to completing a project.

Ironically, the fact that FCP X has sound editing and color grading features far less robust than Final Cut Studio only heightens the need to be able to share your project with other applications!

"It's released from the app store, so improvements will arrive faster." First, improvements will not arrive faster because of the app store; the speed of the improvements -- if and when they are offered -- will be dictated by the software developers.

Regarding the App Store as a delivery method, I don't understand why the App Store is different from, say, Software Update. But I'm not a programmer, and perhaps there is a good reason for this.

I do find exclusively using the App Store for such a massive piece of software cumbersome and the App Store creates problems for companies and universities that deal with issues like volume licensing and educational sales.

"Be patient. A lot of the features that are missing, like multicam, are on their way." Are they? If they are on their way, when will they arrive? What will be included? What features will never be "restored" to the application? And finally, share with us the source of your information. Please only cite actual quotes from Apple.

In all of my reading on FCP X, I have yet to encounter official statements made directly by Apple regarding what features will or won't be continued. A week after its release, the two closest things we have had to an official communication (as of this writing) are:

a) a few private email exchanges between pro users and Randy Ubillos, the lead software designer on FCP X. In one of these emails Ubillos verified that legacy FCP projects will never open in FCP X;

and

b) a response to a handful of criticisms in a hastily blogged response by David Pogue, a consumer tech journalist for the New York Times. Despite his attempts at helpfulness, Mr. Pogue is not an appropriate or even necessarily a capable messenger for any information that needs to be relayed by Apple to its current user base of Final Cut Studio users. His initial review and subsequent defense -- which showed special access to Apple developers that pro users don't have -- sadly did damage to my respect for him. Though perhaps unintentional, his special access makes him look like Apple's "embedded" reporter at the New York Times.

Final thoughts:

For many of its earliest years, Final Cut Pro was considered non-pro by many in the editing community. Avid reigned supreme, and many editors stuck out their necks by committing to Final Cut Pro. Though it's largely an emotional, not a rational, connection, many editors feel a deep loyalty to Apple for the journey they've taken together as FCP ascended in reputation and market share. Now, to feel as if their needs have been ignored and, worse, replaced by the need to woo a consumer market… well, for many it is a very bitter pill to swallow.

Like any misunderstanding, the way to mend things is via openness and communication. But Apple's lack of communication -- and the other signals it has sent regarding professional applications and tools -- accounts for much of the anger and anxiety many editors are feeling. Unless Apple lets us know otherwise, can we be blamed for interpreting that the "Pro" in Final Cut Pro X may actually mean "pro Consumer", and that the "X" may stand for ex-Pro?

If, as Ubillos suggests, FCP 7 projects will never open in FCP X, then I -- and thousands of others -- will be switching to something new. Here are our options:

FCP X Adobe Premiere Pro Avid Media Composer Lightworks Media 100 Sony Vegas

For nearly a dozen years, I have never considered, or needed to consider another suite of software to edit video. Now, entirely thanks to Apple, I must.

I'm not Steve Jobs, but I must say, it's a curious way to run a business.

Prepare to Lose Everything: Use SuperDuper and SMARTReporter

As I mentioned in my last post, hard drive failure is a virtual certainty. It's going to happen to every drive, eventually. The trick to not having your day (or your life) ruined by such and event lies in a) having an up-to-date backup and, if possible, b) being as prepared for drive's failure as possible. To this end, here are two resources to help you and me be prepared for the inevitable:

SuperDuper. If you don't know of this application, prepare to meet your new best friend. It clones hard drives. Reliably. A limited version is available for free. For under $30 you can buy the fully featured version, which allows you to schedule backups and does smart updates (i.e., it copies even faster). I've used SuperDuper for years and see no reason to change as long as it works but, as an FYI, Carbon Copy Cloner does similar things and is donationware.

SMARTReporter.  This nifty application checks on the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) status of your hard drive to see if it has any problems. It is, as the folks at Corecode note, a kind of "early warning system" to notify you (by email, alert, etc.) of a possibly impending hard drive crash. Useful stuff, particularly if you've not run a backup recently. The one hitch: SMART technology does not work with USB and FireWire drives. All the more reason to schedule backups so they're always up-to-date.

In my experience, I have found that a drive's likelhood to fail is directly proportionate to its need to work on a given day. One example: On the day I was set to drive to 200 miles to a post house to do the final output of Quick Feet Soft Hands for television broadcast my raid, storing all of my Final Cut Pro and Color files failed. Thankfully, I had an exact clone and didn't skip a beat.

Suggestions for further reading:

How Do You Make a Filmmaker Cry?

What to Do When Your Hard Drive Goes Soft

 

Shopping for Hard Drives? Two helpful resources...

I've been setting up a home file server and HTPC with a MacMini and, in the process, I found myself shopping for hard drives. It's amazing how cheap they are (about $80-100 for 2TB these days) when you consider what they do (i.e., holding all of your precious digital memories).

Unfortunately, other than relying on your own good and bad experiences, making informed decisions about purchasing new hard drives is next to impossible. The most important factor in a drive is reliability, but there's no way to know if the drive you're shipped is going to fail in 6 hours, 6 months, or 6 years. Compounding this is the fact that almost all reviews -- particularly those from customers on retailer websites -- are anecdotal by nature. Read the 1-star reviews on Newegg or Amazon for any hard drive and you'll soon be looking for another model. And then another. And then... they all start looking equally awful.

Two websites to break through this logjam were Storage Review and Mac Performance Guide.

Storage Review takes hard drive reviews seriously. In searching for some reliable, large, and quiet drives, I followed their recommendations. I particularly found their "Leaderboard" of best drives useful and, after a little cross-checking, followed their recommendations.

Mac Performance Guide, on the other hand, is home to a motherlode of tips on optimizing a system. The site, authored by photographer Lloyd Chambers, bills itself as "offer[ing] the web's clearest advice on selecting and configuring a Mac, especially for photographers." That's quite a claim, but I can't refute it. The Articles and Guides section -- which has multiple articles on backup, data safety, and optimizing Mac performance -- is outstanding.

By the way, I ended up purchasing three different drives: a Western Digital Caviar Green, a Seagate Barracuda Green, and a Samsung Spinpoint F4. I bought none of them in confidence, which, I suppose, is the way you should always buy a drive. That's why you have backups.

 

Adobe Story

  I believe I've lamented my gripes with later versions of Final Draft (e.g., software bloat, etc.) elsewhere on this blog, but for what it's worth, a few years ago I abandoned Final Draft as a screenwriting application. Yes, I know, it's the "Industry Standard."  That recognition didn't make using it any easier. After one too many bugs, I dropped it and figured I could always convert my script to .fdr format after getting a draft out if I really needed such a thing.

Adobe Story

The problem is, I've struggled to find an application to replace it. Those applications have included Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx, and Montage. For my last script I bounced between Screenwriter and Celtx. But as I've dug into a new project for the last few months I've been trying out Adobe Story.

And I'm here to say I'm impressed.

I'm not going to go into a full review of the application, but the thing that really has me hooked is the elegantly-designed interface. The serious, deep-grey look of the application might not be for everyone, but it really helps me stay focused on writing without distractions, especially when engaging the full screen mode. Also, the scene navigator features a color coded interface that simply illuminates at a glance which characters appear in which scenes.

Adobe Story's Interface

Some other things Story has going for it:

It saves your files to the cloud and can be used via a web browser, but it also has a downloadable application for use when working off-line and you can export your files for safekeeping on your own storage devices.

Its collaboration functions are fairly straightforward.

It imports scripts fairly seamlessly and exports in the all-imporant Final Draft format, as well as PDF, TXT, etc.

Finally, for those using the Adobe Production Suite, it interfaces with those applications. This last feature has me thinking about giving Premiere Pro a test run.

Oh, and the price is right. It's free, at least through April 2012.

Aside from some minor, occasional bugginess (it's still officially in beta), the major gripe I have with Story is that I can't use it on my iPad because it uses Flash. At least not yet (see addendum below).

If you're currently unsatisfied with the screenwriting application you're using, even if it's the "Industry Standard", give it a look.

UPDATE 5/3/11: Literally a day after posting this, Adobe released the Story iPhone app. The app does not allow actual editing of scripts, only the reading of them and adding comments. Also, it's an iPhone app, which means you have to use it on an iPad in windowed mode (or in the blurry 2x mode). While disappointing overall, it's still a step in the right direction, particularly when one considers that the feud between Adobe and Apple over Flash might have meant no development at all for Apple's mobile platforms.

iPhone to Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro does not like video that has been shot with an iPhone 4. I learned this shortly after getting my iPhone and shooting the Karpeles Manuscript Museum video a few weeks ago. I imported my iPhone-shot footage into FCP. I was skeptical I'd be able to do anything with it since it's H264 footage and FCP (still) doesn't handle that footage well. The picture was fine, actually. The problem was the audio -- in the form of a big red render bar, to be precise. What to do?

Thankfully, a benevolent soul (named Jeff Greenberg) has done two things:

First, he's explained the problem and the solution. Not surprisingly, it involves transcoding to ProRes.

Secondly, he's gone a step farther and created an iPhone 4-to-FCP compressor droplet for you.

To edit your iPhone footage in Final Cut Pro, all you have to do is download this file, drop your iPhone movies on the droplet, and import them when they're done rendering.

Perhaps we'll be able to expect better H264 in the new Final Cut Studio. Whenever it's released, that is... Until it's released in June, this is the workaround (or one of them).

Launched: The New Self-Reliant Film.

If you're looking at this website in anything other than an RSS reader you can probably tell that we've completely overhauled the website. Thanks to our wonderful designer friends at Nathanna, we've both expanded and simplified the Self-Reliant Film website.

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, our new look is based on some new directions for the website.

Today, with the launch of the new site you can do a few things that you couldn't do before:

 

Sign up for the email list. Our new email newsletter will have exclusive content we don't put on the blog. We’ll share tips on great films we’ve recently discovered, we'll provide some extra filmmaking tips, and you’ll get access to see our films for free. The newsletter is only sent once a month, we never sell or share others’ email addresses, and it’s ad-free. Subscribe!

 

Watch our films: Some folks that visit this site do so because they're fans of our films. Others visit the site because of the blog. If you've not seen our work, or you want to see our films again, or you want to see more of them… we've spelled out all the ways to watch.

The easiest and least expensive way is to sign up for the email list. But there are other ways, too. Find out more here.

Must reads: Look to the sidebar on the left. These are a few of the most popular posts on the site. Check them out if you're new here or if you've not read these. The Declaration of Principles was the first post on the blog, and it's still pretty much as relevant today as it was when it was drafted in November 2005.

 

Resources: If you click on "Resources" (look to the upper left of this page) you'll see some of the more helpful pages we've assembled for filmmakers (and everyone) since beginning the site. Over the coming weeks we'll be updating and expanding these pages.

 

Submission guidelines: We've always received emails from readers wanting us to watch and/or review our films. This has been done pretty much catch-as-catch-can in the past. We finally drew up some ideas about how to do this, as seen in the sidebar on the left. We want to review and put a spotlight on great films more than we've been able to recently. This is a way to encourage this. Click on the Submission Guidelines and and let us know if you've got a film you want us to watch.

 

What hasn't changed?

 

Our blog still features all the same stuff that we've championed and discussed from the beginning -- DIY, regional, and personal filmmaking. We've moved it to selfreliantfilm.com/blog, so update your bookmarks.

(If you bookmarked an old page from the blog it should automatically redirect to the new permalink structure, but if you encounter a broken link, let us know!)  

Finally, one other thing that hasn't changed: This site is still ad-free.

For us, self-reliance has always gone hand in hand with the idea of simplicity. While filmmaking is a vocation that often resists even our attempts to simplify the process of making movies, we feel the least we can do, sometimes at least, is keep our tiny corner of the internet quiet from flashing banners, pop-ups, and google ads buried within our own reflections. This website, like our films, continues to be a labor of love.

We hope you like the new site, and the things to come. If you do, spread the word by sharing with a friend by using facebook, twitter or, you know, by actually telling someone about it face-to-face.

SRF on the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers

During the month of March, Ashley and I will be screening our films in eleven cities throughout Southeast as part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. We will be screening Gina, An Actress Age 29; Quick Feet, Soft Hands; and For Memories' Sake. Southern Circuit is a long-running program of SouthArts (formerly the Southern Arts Federation). As described on their website, "Southern Circuit is the nation’s only regional tour of independent filmmakers." The program is supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with other support coming from the National Endowment for the Arts. To say that we're honored to be selected and excited to screen our work this way would be an understatement.

Here are the dates and venues of our tour. If we're coming to your area, come see us. If you have friends in any of these cities, spread the word! We'll be posting Facebook invites to screenings and notes from the road to the new Self-Reliant Film fanpage.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - East Tennessee State University - Johnson City, TN

Friday, March 4, 2011 - Halsey Inst. of Contemporary Art - Charleston, SC

Sunday, March 6, 2011 - Buckman Performing Arts Center - Memphis, TN

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - Millsaps College - Jackson, MS

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - Clemson University - Clemson, SC

Thursday, March 10, 2011 - Western Carolina University - Cullowhee, NC

Friday, March 11, 2011 - Center for Doc. Studies @ Duke Univ. - Durham, NC

Monday, March 14, 2011 - Capri Theatre - Montgomery, AL

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - Manship Theatre - Baton Rouge, LA

Friday, March 18, 2011 - Arts Council of Central Louisiana - Alexandria, LA

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - Lucas Theatre - Savannah, GA

Besides us, this year's Southern Circuit includes tours by Alex Karpovsky, Jenny Abel, and Kimberly Reed, among others. You can read more about all the filmmakers here. For our tour page on the SouthArts website, click here.

The Panasonic GH2: Some thoughts.

I have made no secret of my frustration with DSLRs for making motion pictures. I've wanted to love them, sure. In my quest to find a small camera I could love, I've bought and sold (or returned) a Canon 7D, Panasonic GH1, and a Nikon D7000. The Canon and Nikon were each impressive in their own ways, but I gave them both up because I could never fully trust the image that I saw in their LCDs. After being burned a few times by outrageous moire that only appeared once I could view footage on a real monitor, I gave up trying to shoot with those cameras. The GH1, which I tested last summer after my frustrations with the Canon cameras, was more promising, especially with the ballyhooed firmware hack that surfaced last year. That camera didn't have problems with moire or aliasing, and its mirrorless design (the GH1 is not, technically speaking a DSLR at all) opened up the opportunity for using several different types of lenses (PL-mount cine lenses, Nikons, Canons, and many more).

Unfortunately, the camera clearly felt like the product of a "consumer" division of a large electronics company. Parts of the camera felt shoddily put together, there were reports of design issues with the lugs that held the neck strap and, worst of all, the camera exhibited a nasty fixed pattern noise problem that made any dim area in a shot have strange vertical blue streaks. Hacked or not, the camera didn't seem ready for prime time. Hope springs eternal, though. I thought, Panasonic might be onto something if only they would fix some of these glaring problems.

In December, I managed to get my hands on the GH1's successor, the still-hard-to-find Panasonic GH2, shortly after they arrived in the US. A month or so later, here are my thoughts on the camera as a tool for filmmakers.

The GH2 is not a perfect camera -- no such thing exists -- but it does fix a lot of the GH1's problems. As such, I feel like I can finally endorse a DSLR for motion picture use. (And yes, I know, it's not a DSLR. But the term "hybrid camera" just sounds weird.) I think it's the best camera you can buy for under $1000. It might be the best camera you can by for three or four times that. Lest you think this is going to be a rave review, let me lay out my curmudgeonly gripes about this camera:

- Size and build. If you are used to the rugged build quality of a Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D this camera feels like a toy. It's a bit too small for my tastes and the buttons feel a little flimsy. I'd pay $500 more for it to be as rock solid as a Nikon or Canon. Furthermore, the lug nuts that hold the shoulder mount seem to follow the same design as the GH1. There may be improvements on the inside, but simply seeing the same parts and placement doesn't inspire confidence. If you insist on wearing a neck strap, I recommend purchasing a Black Rapid RS7 strap, which screws into the camera's base.

- Lens selection. The Micro 4/3 format lacks the robust catalog of lenses that one finds with APS-C and full frame sensor cameras from Nikon and Canon. As most readers probably know, the M4/3 system effectively renders lenses with a 2x crop factor when compared with 35mm still photography. (M43 is much closer to the size of 35mm motion picture film.) Since a 20mm lens on a GH2 has the field of view of a 40mm lens on something like the Canon 5D Mk II, the question of how wide one can go with the M43 format is a legitimate question. Compounding this issue is the fact that Panasonic's "pro" M43 zooms (14-140 and the 7-14mm) are slow. Olympus makes a great couple of fast zooms (f/2.0!), but they require a 4/3-to-Micro4/3 adapter. Probably the sexiest native lens for the camera is Voigtlander's super fast 25mm f/0.95. Regardless of which of these you choose, you're spending from anywhere near $1000 to $2500 for a lens that won't work on either of the other major camera systems (e.g., Nikon or Canon). If the next great camera that comes down the road isn't a Micro 4/3 system camera, but something with a larger sensor (and this is considerably likely) an investment in M43 glass may not repay long term dividends. That said, there is a solid work-around solution. More on this later...

- Programmability. The programmable function buttons on the GH2 can only be set to engage functions that are fairly useless for filmmakers. The ability to customize the camera's buttons falls far, far short of something like the 7D.

- Power. The battery does not last long, especially if you are using a native M43 lens like the Panasonic 14-140 that ships with some kits. That lens has image stabilization and it drains the battery fast. Even with lenses that don't pull power you'll need to buy at least a couple more batteries. And you'll probably also want a AC/DC power adapter. Panasonic doesn't seem to be making or selling those yet, so chalk that up as yet another (hopefully temporary) frustration associated with the camera.

- Documentation. The acronym RTFM takes on new meaning here, as the manual included is one of the most poorly written technical documents I've ever read. I hope the authors never try their hand at writing the instructions for heart defibrillators or how to perform CPR. Compounding this fact, the American edition is not available as a PDF. I resorted to essentially writing my own translated version of the manual for the camera and threw out the "official" one Panasonic.

- Gamma Shift. The camera has a strange bug in which the gamma shifts after you press the record button. Will this be fixed by a firmware update? Who knows. If it came from Panasonic's pro electronics division, I would expect one. Coming from the consumer division I have less confidence, particularly since releasing firmware could open the camera to another firmware hack. (Don't get me started about the idea that a company wouldn't want its users to tinker with, and better, its products.)

- Recording Media. I'm not crazy about using SD cards. CF cards (like those used by the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II) are are more rugged and they're harder to lose. But the D7000, as well as the Canon 60D, T2i, and even the Panasonic AF-100 use SD cards, so I guess I need to get over this. SD cards are less expensive, I'll give them that.

- Recording standard. Though it may not affect us Yanks, there is no 25P mode for PAL users. I can't understand why Panasonic would be so short sighted as to ignore this feature.

- So-so stills. As a stills camera, the GH2 isn't going to compete with something like a Nikon D7000 or a Canon 7D or 5D Mark II. But this fact doesn't bother me so much. My photography is mainly limited to location scouting, holiday snapshots, and photos around my home, documenting the change of seasons and the comings and goings of friends, family, and animals. The GH2 is enough for me, but if you want a camera for serious, professional photography, you will probably look elsewhere. Personally, if I needed something heftier, a Nikon D7000 or a Canon 7D would suit me fine. Though they are more expensive cameras, they're not that much pricier, and you get what you pay for.

Yet, most these complaints have work arounds, particularly when you consider what the GH2 has going for it over other DSLRs:

+ No more rainbows. Far less -- and far, far less offensive -- moire. It's simply not an issue. I don't worry about it. At all. I actually feel like I can trust the image I see in the LCD or viewfinder. What a concept!

+ Less aliasing. 'Nuff said.

+ No overheating. The camera acts as if it actually wants to stay on and let you continue filming as long as you want.

+ Sharper. I've not shot any charts, but to my eyes the image looks sharper than that of the Canons and Nikon, particularly on wide shots.

+ Adjustable LCD. Like the GH1 before it (and like the Canon 60D), an adjustable LCD means you can put your camera in tight spaces and continue to watch the footage. Plus, you can see your footage in bright daylight; there is no need to purchase a Z-finder (or similar).

+ ETC mode. The camera's 2X crop "ETC mode" gives you, in effect, two lenses for every one you own. I find it only somewhat usable because of the increased noise, but no other camera (that I'm aware of) even has such a feature and it's far better than any digital zoom.

+ 24p filming. This is an improvement on the GH1, in that cinema mode filming isn't contained in an interlaced wrapper. It's true progressive.

+ No fixed pattern noise. This is the GH2's biggest improvement over the GH1. There's no need to try to use voodoo on your camera to make the noise go away.

Also, for those that want it, the GH2 has autofocus in video mode when using native M43 lenses. I don't care about AF and I've found it to be slower than advertised. But it does work.

As I see it, these are all very big gains over most other DSLRs.

Finally, let me address two issues others have raised about the Micro 4/3 format:

One complaint is that the sensor is too small to get shallow depth of field. Eh, this is not much of an issue to me. First, you can get shallow DoF with the camera. It's far more than you're used to with any 1/3" or 2/3" video camera. Can you get razor thin DoF like on the Canon 5D Mk II? No. That's a VistaVision sized sensor, there's no comparison. But having your subject in focus is, these days, a somewhat underrated concept. Micro4/3 strikes a nice balance between allowing you to render backgrounds out of focus and allowing your performers room to move.

As for the complaint about lenses -- which I myself made above -- so far I have found that the best price/performance option is to purchase manual focus Nikon glass (say, a 20mm, 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, and a 105mm) along with a Nikon-to-Micro4/3 adapter. You can even get an adapter for Nikon G-series lenses (i.e., lenses without an aperture ring), which would be most useful with something like a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 lens. Users of Canon glass are limited to something like a Kipon adapter, which fakes an aperture, only somewhat successfully. The great thing about Nikon glass is that it's usable on Canon cameras, too, as well as, of course, Nikons. Should either of those manufacturers step up and invent the next great HDSLR, you won't miss a beat.

In the end, I would say the GH2 is a step forward for DSLR filmmaking. Even if I can't help but feeling at times like it succeeds in spite of itself (or, more accurately, in spite of its manufacturer) I like the camera and the image it produces. But, it's just a camera. If you've been making films with the 7D or the T2i -- or whatever camera -- and you love it, well, use that. There is no need to switch if something is working for you. If, however, you're a filmmaker that, like me, has longed to work with DSLRs because of their small form factor, but you've been put off by their frustrations, the GH2 is worth a look.